peteg's blog

Patrick White: The Solid Mandala.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A portrait of a pair of twins who exhibit White's dualisms: numbers versus literature, empathy and haughty withdrawal, the white and the blue collar. Brute strength against fine motor control. Semi-rural Sarsaparilla (Castle Hill) against the city (Centennial Park). There's far more here on the inner life than Smee managed to even gesture at. One point of commonality was Arthur's incapacity to externalise his thoughts for a variety of reasons (inability to formulate them convincingly, unwillingless to persuade or influence, laziness, the ability to see the whole but not its parts, the inadequacy of the medium, so on). Told in technically seamless and virtuosic flashback. He's down on Goethe, like others. The most enjoyable parts to me where the very brief punchlines where White cashes in his extensive descriptions. Some are quite brutal.

The African Queen

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More John Huston. Second time around. Apparently Eastwood made a movie about Huston's desire to go big game hunting while making this.

Heat

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nth time around for large n. Michael Mann's masterpiece. Still #123 in the IMDB top-250.

The spy who came in from the cold

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Second time around. More Richard Burton.

Quarterly Essay #72, Sebastian Smee: Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age.

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On the not-yet-dead iPhone via Overdrive, loaned from the Randwick City Library after quite a wait. Not at all what I thought it would be: Smee seems ignorant of such not-so-recent critiques as Jarett Kobek's i hate the internet and Amartya Sen's capabilities model that aims to move past the blockages induced by overly rigid notions of identity. When will social media be deemed as dangerous to society as Class A drugs? The hand wringing concern comes in commodified form, oh the irony. He avoids following any thought too far. I guess I had hopes for a meditation on what is worth concentrating our shredded attention on these days; this diffuse essay isn't it.

I only briefly scanned the responses to Laura Tingle's previous Quarterly Essay. Both were busts, I feel.

Heaven Knows, Mr Allison

/noise/movies | Link

A John Huston and Deborah Kerr jag from The Night of the Iguana. Robert Mitchum shares the lead. A U.S. marine and Irish nun find themselves stranded on a South Pacific Island and survive occupation by Japanese troops until the Americans arrive. It's all very proper and things go as expected with no offence given to the USMC or Catholic Church. Reading it another way it's a backhander: the skills of a marine will help you survive but may not get you the girl. There's some great cinematography. It obviously parallels Huston's The African Queen.

Crazy Heart

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Second time around. Prompted by A Star is Born. Hmm.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Excessive Marvel completism. This one got massively advertised on buses and bus stops in Sydney. Larry Fishburne! Why didn’t you say? Michelle Pfeiffer! Approximately as vacuous as the first one.

Manohla Dargis.

Ant-Man

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Marvel completism. Martin Donovan! Why didn't you say? Michael Douglas plays the same old tired note. Paul Rudd is pleasantly low key but I don't find him as funny as the movie needs me to. Evangeline Lilly is all face acting. If they'd made more of the fact most ants are female (the winged ones are typically males or queens) this may have been hailed as the first Marvel movie with a strong pro-female message. It's silly. I haven't seen lurv this strong since Interstellar.

A. O. Scott.

The Great Gatsby

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I read the book ages ago, and that put me off seeing the movie until now. For Carey Mulligan, but ultimately Joel Edgerton who was the only one fully committed to taking this show over the cliff. When are we going to see him in a Marvel movie? DiCaprio leads (like in Titanic? — which I still haven't seen). His "old sport" just doesn't work. Tobey Maguire is the bemused Nick Carraway. I didn't recognise Elizabeth Debicki, which shows how engaged I was. The politics seem dated beyond belief: Daisy has no agency. The music is banal. There are Australians everywhere. It's just another over-egged Baz Luhrmann thing.

A. O. Scott says it's not as bad as other people were saying at the time, but it is that shallow. He's right that shame has gone missing between then and now. Dana Stevens. And many others.

Captain Marvel

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With Dave. 3:30pm 3D session at the Odeon 5, $31-ish for us both. Maybe three other people. Released last Thursday. We had coffee/lunch beforehand at Bills Beans.

Low expectations and heavy politicisation made this seem more like a Star Wars episode to me. Dave was adamant that he was there for Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn. (The latter reverts to his native strine when reunited with his refugee family, a fine rebuke that doubtlessly eluded most American commentators.) An anti-aged Samuel L. Jackson took on something of Larry Fishburne's Clean from Apocalypse Now. Brie Larson might have done her best. Annette Bening tried to make it into something. Arnie decided this was beneath him: the True Lies poster/stand thingie gets blasted and only Jamie Lee Curtis survives. Of course it should've been one for Pulp Fiction.

Reviews are dutiful. Dana Stevens: Finally, Women Have Their Own Mediocre Marvel Movie. Anthony Lane. The dogfight through canyons is what put me most in mind of Star Wars. A. O. Scott. The cat was a bit much.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Headed down to Coogee with everyone else to read my book for a bit in the late-afternoon sun, then a paddle off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay. Still quite a few people out, it being Sunday and all, the unis back. Pleasant in, mostly flat, high-ish tide, far cleaner than I expected given the recent rain. Read some more book afterwards on the headland. Beautiful end to a steamy summery day.

The Straight Story

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A David Stratton marvellous movie (#86); this one is by far the highest rated on IMDB (8/10) so far. In two sittings. The draw was David Lynch. A few decades before the epic use of a mobility scooter to retrieve a boat from storage, Richard Farnsworth decided he needed to see his long-lost brother (Harry Dean Stanton) one last time. Being of weak hip and eye but stubbornly self-reliant he figures that the best way to get from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin is on his ancient ride-on lawnmower. Suffice it to say he really doesn't make it to Grotto. The daughter he lived with is played by Sissy Spacek. There's a bit too much all-American hokum about family, and a slightly off-kilter reminiscence about World War II, but otherwise this is a picture-postcard perfect love letter to the small towns, the corn and wheat fields of the Midwest from Lynch. Freddie Francis's cinematography is excellent. There's a whiff of Terrence Malick about it, and also Twin Peaks — notably Badalamenti's music and Big Ed Everett McGill.

Ebert got right into it. Janet Maslin was astonished that Lynch could mesmerise with G-rated material.

Following

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A David Stratton marvellous movie (#36). Written and directed by Christopher Nolan. I'd seen it before but didn't remember much. A fine twisty little noir.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the southern rocks. Seemed clean. Flat, little wind, pleasant in. A few people about, many more on the northern side. Afterwards ate dinner on the Coogee headland. Warm day and evening.

The Killers (1946)

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A Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner jag from Seven Days in May: a black-and-white take on an Ernest Hemingway story made about 18 years previous. Briefly "Swede" Lancaster gets murdered in the opening scenes and the insurance investigation gets told entirely in flashback, somewhat like Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Lancaster is far too talkative to be a Swede. There's some boxing, some prison time, some noir; Edmond O'Brien leads in a Bogey kinda role and seems to to enjoy himself. Gardner is very young, and carries the femme fatale with insufficient conviction: she's often subdued (even a bit lifeless) and doesn't look very calculating. The plot is not very plausible and very tidily resolved.

UNSW Centre for Ideas: Writing War: Kassem Eid & Mohammed Hanif.

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$10 booked 2019-02-23. The ticket included a drink so I got another 50 Lashes at IO Myers Studio. The sizeable audience sat in rows of chairs on the floor (they'd removed the risers). This pair of conversations was hosted by the Director of UNSW Centre for Ideas, Ann Mossop. Apparently they were both guests at the recent Adelaide Writers Week.

Briefly, Hanif wore a pink shirt, untucked, with sneakers and looked like he was in danger of sobriety. He owned to being born in 1965, that Pakistan has been at war throughout his life, and writing novels might be a bit childish but he's addicted to storytelling. Apparently writing Red Birds took most of the seven years since his previous novel. In his mind war is pure cynicism: some people make a lot of money from it, and careers are furthered. On a stage elsewhere he was told by a real Navy Seal that war was a lot like Call of Duty; absurdism rules the day. The present wars are very sanitised: little blood and few dead bodies, certainly no coffins, are shown on US TV. The classic Việt Nam movies were all focussed on an America traumatised by killing heaps of people: just stop it man. The current Pakistani government is a democracy but is censoring the press etc. like the military dictatorships.

In the brief Q/A session Eid suggests smoking a lot to get over trauma. Hanif's advice to his cadet journalists: don’t get fired, don’t get killed. There was also some discussion about citizenship.

Seven Days in May

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An Ava Gardner jag from The Night of the Iguana. She's very different here despite these movies coming out in the same year or thereabouts. Kirk Douglas is essentially the same as he was in Paths of Glory, speaking truth to power in black and white. Burt Lancaster plays the wayward general, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who thinks he can do a better job than President Fredric March, who in turn often sounds like GWB. It seems so old-fashioned for the man at the top to be combating conspiracies rather than promulgating them, though the big men of history is the same old timeless canard. The plot is earnest, much like Goodnight and Good Luck, and similarly virulently anti McCarthyist. Somehow this stuff always reminds me of Gil Scott Heron's B-Movie.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch and a lazy paddle at Yarra Bay. There are still signs up everywhere warning about the possibility of a cruise ship dock being built there. Beaut day for the most part. Some thunderclouds blew threw mid-afternoon. Read some book on the grass nearby. Quite a few people on the beach. Clean, flat with a light offshore breeze.

Andrew McGahan: Last Drinks.

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Kindle. McGahan's third novel, and the third of his I've read. Apparently having exhausted his semi-autobiographical resources in his first two, he decided to give the all-Australian crime genre a go. Fellow Brisvegan John Birmingham wrote a boostery blurb (see also his own take), and a Ned Kelly was conferred.

Briefly this is a variation on the classic noirs. Taking, for instance, Sweet Smell of Success as a starting point, McGahan transplants the action from NYC to the epically corrupt pre-Inquiry Old Queensland of Joh and the epically cafe-d and bar-d Brisbane of now-ish, apparently amoral in a taking-the-fifth sort of way. He retains the focus on the social columnist as narrator and possible patsy. There's a femme fatale (not entirely a success, certainly not as much as Cynthia), the old mates, some graphic violence, and an excess of booze. So perhaps it's more Once Upon A Time In America with that love triangle, the unexpected marriage and the two-track, the good times going sour as they always do in stories like these. Similarly those guys only wanted to party all night. Or maybe there's too much Remains of the Day obliviousness; it's not funny, and too predictable.

So far McGahan has been structurally sound but very repetitious in the small, and across paragraphs, as if he is getting paid by the word. His excuse for the confessionals is that all players are Catholic. Marvin spilling the beans to George was particularly implausible. The South-East Queensland's electricity grid as a metaphor for politics was heavy-handed. Does going cold turkey in a motel room (at The Last Chance Motel of course) and an 11km mountain bushwalk owe anything to Trainspotting? Despite being essentially derivative, the core of this book is addiction and quite often McGahan nailed it.

Queensland is a rich seam and someone's got to have mined it more deeply than this. Joh's Wikipedia page is a ripping read. Chris Masters at the height of his powers (and thanks ABC for letting us download your archive). The cupidity! and so dumb. Bob Williams read this book so you don't have to.

Impulse

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Yet another David Stratton Marvellous movie (#47). Over two sittings. Ex Ms Eastwood Sondra Locke directed; loads of details about her situation on her IMDB bio. She passed recently.

This is yet another exploration of the seamy side of life in Los Angeles. Lead actress Theresa Russell is gorgeous in classic go-getter 80s style. She's bait for the vice squad. Lead bloke, Jeff Fahey (looking much like William Petersen in To Live and Die in L.A. but a step closer to Michael Keaton), works for the D.A. and finds himself in need of her skills and so much more. Things go as you'd expect. The sexual politics is a bit suck-it-up-princess; there's not much empowerment but lots of harassment, some of which is welcome but most not. There's the suggestion that everything can be bought, but the window for closing the transaction might be narrow.

Its rating at IMDB is really low, but it's not that bad. Roger Ebert. Caryn James. I'm starting to think that Stratton would be happy watching daytime T.V.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch at Lady Martin Beach, just to see what's there. It's almost private. The water was filthy along the shoreline. Afterwards I popped over to Woollhara Library at Double Bay, again just to see what's there. They have an indoor garden at the info counter and a surfeit of computers for doing admin. After that I hacked a bit on the Coogee headland and read some book in the strong wind. I had an early-evening paddle off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay: clean, high tide, not many people. The hot day cooled off rapidly, signalling a sort-of end to summer.

Max Headroom (TV movie)

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I have vague memories of Max Headroom from the 1980s, somehow juxtaposed with the ABC's Rock Arena. I thought it was something like a five-minute cartoon (a Bugs Bunny for the MTV generation) but it turns out to be a TV series. This was the pilot, which apparently later got remade. It is frustratingly inconclusive. Also it's English, not American — the accents are all over the map.

A Running Jump

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A Mike Leigh-directed short from 2012. Doesn't seem to add up to much, though the acting is as good as always. The reviews at IMDB explain why: it was apparently made for the London Olympics and is no more than a series of gags.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay with heaps of people. Tail end of a beaut summer day. Visibility was poor. Saw a couple of large female gropers, the almost-blue big one, some small fry, ludderick, no stingarees. Flat, high tide, no wind. Read some book on the Clovelly headland afterwards.

The Guilty

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Danish Oscar bait. Scandi noir fused with the claustrophobic one-man one-set thing that worked so well for Tom Hardy in Locke. Yep, he's on the phone pretty much the whole time. There's a twist (but only one). The cinematography is washed out. It's a bust.

Jeannette Catsoulis got right into it.

Andrew McGahan: 1988.

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Kindle. McGahan passed recently, and that prompted me to take another look at what he wrote after Praise. Where else to start but with this followup, its prequel.

Here a not-yet-smoking, pre-Cynthia Gordon takes a road trip in a Kingswood from Brisvegas to Darwin with Wayne, an effeminate and somewhat useless artist who mostly rubs him the wrong way, for a job at the Cape Don meteorology station. Yep, it's isolated. Yep, the blokes are unprepared and inept. There is epic drinking, epic circlework and epic boredom. Some Aboriginal dreaming. The more responsible characters are sketched. One is a frustrated desert-country Steve Irwin, parked by the NT conservancy management in this swampland largely because the previous guy was more alpha. Another is an elder who metes out some rough justice. Most if not all tropes of Australian manhood are trotted out and found wanting, and find Gordon wanting too. His ability to disappoint everyone, including himself, is his not-so-secret superpower. The shame he feels for his body overshadows it all. I think McGahan wedged in all the horror genre moves he thought he could get away with. The outro is a bust.

The prose is workmanlike and I enjoyed it more than I remember enjoying Praise. The Russian movie How I Ended This Summer has a similar setting with similar fishing and surprisingly far less epic drinking. Goodreads: I imagine the ratings fall along gender lines.

Hello There, We've Been Waiting For You by Louris van de Geer.

/noise/theatre | Link

A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab. Closing night, packed with family; the Italians near me chatted throughout. It was hot and stuffy inside IO Myers Studio once the players got going. Dinner at Pinocchio Sushi beforehand, and a 50 lashes pale ale. Loads of people out and about, uni being back and all.

This piece is exactly what the playwright says it is: slices of small-town Americana. The cast was large, the set minimal. Some of it is quite fun, such as the compere's mugging to the camera and audience, and his narcissistic interactions with the lady who seems to be his number-one fan. Also the ensemble-opening piece, with the actors completing each others' sentences. I found the beauty pageant parts dragged a bit, despite the performers' best efforts.

I realise now that it has many similarities to Magnolia.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

For various not-good reasons I haven't been getting enough sleep, so instead of continuing to execute tactics when I need to plan strategy I decided to walk down to Coogee in the early afternoon. I ate my leftover curry on the grass along Arden St and read some more book. Afterwards I had a brief early-afternoon paddle in the surf, which was totally flat and cleanish, modulo some seaweed. There were quite a few people about on a beautiful summer day.

Australian String Quartet: Haydn Winkelman Sibelius at the City Recital Hall.

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A freebie via the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Their resident cellist was on maternity leave so they got to take the ACO's Timo-Veikko Valve on their national tour. This was their final night. Maybe half full at most. I had some hopes as I like this format but it wasn't really my thing; the highlight was some of the Sibelius.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Finding myself more of a zombie than I'd hoped, I went for a mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay off the scuba ramp after lunch at Laksa King. Visibility was decent away from the shore. I saw a couple of large female gropers and one on the turn: (s)he was blue at either end but still green in the middle. Also a few large wrasse, loads of small fry, a small school of garfish (?). Relatively flat, high tide, light wind. Not many people, and everyone in the water was snorkelling. Some far-too-brassy blue wrens came up to me on the path down to the ramp.

The Night of the Iguana

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I've been meaning to watch this one for ages. John Huston directed and co-adapted Tennessee Williams's play. The cast is stellar. A reference in A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain prompted me to dig it up. Black and white in two sittings.

Sort-of-defrocked Reverend of the Gospel Richard Burton is chaperoning (really, being chaperoned by) a group of Baptist ladies from Texas led by Grayson Hall (cast precisely to type I'd expect) touring Mexico circa 1963. (Burton also played a priest in the contemporaneous Becket.) He brings them to a resort on a hill near the sea at Puerto Vallarta where good friend and recently-bereaved Ava Gardner holds court and has a blast. Later on quick-sketch artist and spinster Deborah Kerr arrives with her poetic grandfather and provides spiritual consolations to go along with the boozy ones. (I can just imagine her in The King and I.) Sue Lyon does over the willful Lolita role. None of the ladies can help themselves. Burton has never been funnier, perhaps because the Liz and Dick show was in town and going strong for the duration of filming.

Bosley Crowther at the time. I think he got it about right, but for me the stakes were lower.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Coogee. The beach was far emptier than I would have expected. Some thick clouds about, no rain, but a tad cooler than at midday. Pretty flat, not too dirty. Dried out on the headland afterwards.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Another beaut evening. Went for a paddle at the north eastern end of Gordons Bay off the scuba ramp after an afternoon at the Waverley Library. Flatter than yesterday. Not many people around. Cool wind. Didn't injure myself. Dried off while reading some more book on the chair in the north-eastern corner of the carpark, overlooking Clovelly.

Mohammed Hanif: Red Birds.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I remember really liking A Case of Exploding Mangoes but not his second effort Our Lady of Alice Bhatti. This one is a bit of an interpolant of those two: we're parked in a (re)fugee camp in close proximity to an abandoned (?) military airbase and I didn't get the gist of it at all. There is so much circling around whatever it was that the characters do not do the obvious thing of going to The Hangar until the 80% mark.

Structurally it's all first person with the narration rotating amongst a dog (with the obvious and sometimes cutting conceit of describing things by smell, e.g. "objectivity smells of stale piss"), a teenage tearaway Milo Minderbinder-esque entrepreneur, his mother, a downed American pilot, Lady Flowerbody (a spy? a do gooder? a temptress, a token, a cliche), a doctor-of-sorts. What are we to make of Hanif's recycling of the myth that Neil Armstrong converted to Islam while on the moon? Are the red birds drawn straight out of the M. Night Shyamalan playbook? There is no resolution.

Reviews are legion. Jonathon McAloon observes that things are too damn ambiguous. Hanif is apparently at UNSW next week.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A beaut day despite the BOM's forecast. I decided to spend the afternoon by walking down to Coogee, eating my lunch on the park next to the beach, and having a coffee at Black Boho at the southern end of the beach. Coogee had some nice waves rolling in apparently due to Cyclone Oma. BeachWatch told me it was probably filthy so I headed over to Gordons Bay. I got in off the southern rocks in the late afternoon, and even in the middle of the bay there was some detritus. Three tourists were trying to snorkel. Some others were sitting around. In between all that I read a bit more book.

The Hollars

/noise/movies | Link

The things Sharlto Copley makes me watch. Mr Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, stars and directs. There's almost nothing to redeem this cliche-ridden family thing.

Doctor Strange

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Second time around. It's one way to burn a rainy Saturday evening.

Okja

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It took me several goes to get through this. I found it far more tiresome than Bong Joon-ho's previous directorial efforts (e.g. Snowpiercer), which was surprising as the reviews were universally positive. The humour falls flat. Tilda Swinton starts strongly before degenerating to a cliche. Jake Gyllenhaal is especially feeble. Paul Dano is beatific, as always. Briefly: an American genetically-engineered superpig grows up in Korean mountains with a girl (an insufficiently-challenged An Seo Hyun) and her grandfather in perpetual summer. The rest goes as you'd expect. Notionally this is a comment on corporatised, mechanised industrial animal production but really it's a bust.

Dana Stevens. Yes, the pig is more like a rhino or a hippo. A. O. Scott.

Shoplifters

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Perhaps the pick of the 2019 Oscar bait. A very strangely constituted Japanese family muddles its way to ruin without much sentimentality but with some fine humour and some beautifully drawn scenes. (If I got it right, not one of the six is formally related to anyone else.) The plot takes a backseat to some patient character development. It's sort-of like a Lukas Moodysson effort, unflinching but without the brutality. I might have to dig deeper into Hirokazu Kore-eda's efforts.

Manohla Dargis.

Amor Towles: A Gentleman in Moscow.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A recommendation from Kate. An elegant eulogy for a time when Russian Counts were awesomely cultured and internally-exiled to house arrest in grand hotels. That is to say, it is a fairy story for adults and completely out of time in this age of Trump. We also get some potted history about the revolution, the passing of Stalin and so forth; it's a bit of a social complement to Red Plenty, sort of. The observations are fantastic. The set pieces go off like clockwork. There's a beaut romance between the Count and an actress. I was gripped throughout, though it flagged a bit at times. The ending was a tad unclear: Towles is American and may take it for granted that emigrating to the USA from the East in 1954 was a no brainer, but Spufford might disagree: the Soviets were beginning to demonstrate their (brief) engineering superiority with nuclear power, Sputnik and Gauguin (etc). In this book noone (ever) believes too much in the communist project.

Craig Taylor's review left me cold at the time, but it seems more positive on a reread. Goodreads generally loved it.

Midnight's Children

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A mediocre adaptation of Salman Rushdie's big novel. He also wrote the screenplay, and like Amis, blew it — even with some serious bowdlerizing there's still far too much going on in a lengthy two and a half hours. The winnowing makes it into the skeleton of an XMen movie. The characters are thinly drawn. The slum is amazingly clean. The cinematography has its moments. The magic is absent. Rushdie narrates, flatly. It was strange to hear Nehru voice his famous words.

Rachel Saltz at the New York Times at the time. She observes that they needed to go unabashedly large.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Grabbed some sushi from Royal Randwick to eat down at Little Bay around 2pm. The wind was up and the forecast (light) showers started around then. Most of the people departed the beach at that time. Soon enough it passed and I got in for a brief paddle. The tide was way out. Some blokes tried to snorkel. Loads of dumb, pushy, heavy traffic on the way home.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle off the beach at Gordons Bay on yet another perfect summer day. High tide, going out I think. It seemed clean enough out in the bay once past the leaf litter, seaweed, etc at the shoreline. Still a few people there, and a few yappy, whiny dogs. Dried out on the headland afterwards and got a bith further into my current book.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people still there on what was a perfect late summer day and evening. The water seemed clean. High tide, going out. Read some book on the Coogee headland while drying out.

The Magnificent Ambersons

/noise/movies | Link

An Orson Welles jag prompted by Geoffrey O’Brien. Black and white, 1942 but recalling the guilded splendour of the 1870s. Based on the Booth Tarkington novel, which apparently had the same effect on Welles as Honkytonk Man had on Clint Eastwood. It took me a few goes to get through it. Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter. The nostalgia for a simpler pre-mechanized time (horses over automobiles, towns over cities, family honour over love) manifests initially as humour and high-society happenings, later as bathos. I didn't understand why the family ended up ruined as the moneyed-up patriarchal grandfather is in deep background when it came. In any case there's always the customary epic production woes to read about. Classy credits!

London Fields

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A shocker of an adaptation of the Martin Amis novel. I apparently it read about thirteen years ago and recollect approximately nothing at all. He gets a cameo at least, and that might be this thing's high point, Unless you're an Amber Heard fan, in which case you can enjoy acres of her flesh, photographed as one advertisement after another. The camera leers. Let's at least agree that she can't act, or at least couldn't in 2015 when this hot mess got filmed. Her paramour-of-the day Johnny Depp turns in a self parody. Billy Bob Thorton is the writer/authorial presence, competing with Theo James to be flawlessly characterless. Jim Sturgess is horrible as a lightweight Ray Winstone. Terrible performances all round, with the exception of Jason Isaacs's reliable ham.

Jeannette Catsoulis woke me up to it. It was another shock to find that Amis co-wrote the screenplay. Apparently he's had a go before with approximately the same lack of success.

Kim Un-su: The Plotters, translated by Sora Kim-Russell.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I picked this up after reading Rupert Winchester's review at the Mekong Review. Published by Text. It's a pretty stock piece of cinematic Korean lowlife ultra violence. Our lonely protagonist is an orphan dumped in a garbage bin at a convent who was raised to be an assassin by a lame librarian. He's a cat man. All the fun is in the colour: an eight-sided matchbox, bottomless soju, endless Korean-style drinking, the rise of democracy in South Korea fuelling rather than quelling the demand for assassinations, the Doghouse library master-crafted by a Japanese, finding love but insufficient meaning amongst provincial factory workers. Apparently the author is big in Korea. One bum note stuck in my head: he asks "whoever heard of a Californian bear?" as if that's not a bear right there on the state flag. Sure, it's been extinct for a while.

Alison Flood. Charles Finch.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A very tame kookaburra.

Following an abortive trip to the emergency department at Prince of Wales Hospital last night (got there around 5pm, timed out at 7pm), hoping to get that stuff extracted from my toe, I figured I'd get properly prepared (dinner, laptop, reading material) and try the same at Royal Prince Alfred after a swim down at Wattamolla. I ducked into the Sutherland library on the way past, and a coffee at a little caf next to the Ramen cafe that was doing a roaring trade.

I got waved past the tollbooth on the road into the Royal National Park. The beach was quiet: just a few loutish tourists doing their best to enliven things. Some leaf litter in the water, otherwise the usual. A beaut day for it: not too hot, some cumulus but no rain in sight. I read a bit more of my book at the picnic table where some unafraid kookaburras came right up to me.

The ride up the Princes Highway was painfully slow. I got to Royal Prince Alfred around 5:10pm. There's loads of motorcycle parking up and down Missenden Road. The reception bloke was chirpy. The triage nurse didn't mind me heading back to the bike to grab my dinner. The doctor turned up around 5:45pm, apologising profusely for it taking that long. (Apparently it was bedlam somewhere beyond the waiting room.) She deftly removed the two chunks of unknown material from my right big toe, chatting all the while. Around 6:20pm I got a tetanus jab from a nurse, and 7:15pm an x-ray that showed she'd done a good job. At 7:45pm the doctor gave me my discharge notice and sent me on my way with a prescription for antibiotics.

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Picked up lunch at Out of the Blue on Clovelly Road, which I'd been past too many times. A bit expensive ($20.30) for mediocre fish (hake, grilled, not much choice), an OK Greek salad and some pre-deep-fried calamari. A couple of guys replacing the front door were careless about the customers. Why do that work at lunchtime?

I ate down on the rocks at Gordons Bay. The wind was up and the seagulls had decided to spend what I'd imagine is prime feeding time on the edge of the carpark, where some firies where practising their cherry picker technique. A few storm clouds blew through on an otherwise beaut day. Afterwards I tried snorkelling off the scuba ramp. Visibility was not great as the surf, high though weak, was somehow rough enough to stir everything up near the shoreline. Loads of small fry, some large wrasse, one large female groper, several smaller ones, but no sign of the big blue boy or any cephalopods. I managed to get a few shards of something-or-other stuck in the big toe of my right foot, beyond the reach of my tweezers.

Romance and Cigarettes

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Another David Stratton marvellous movie: #80. John Turturro wrote and directed. The cast is stellar stellar: James Gandolfini leads opposite increasingly estranged wife Susan Sarandon with slatternly, working-class, hardbitten English Kate Winslet his piece on the side. (She's game, I'll give her that.) Christopher Walken puts in a one-note effort as a weak Elvis clone. Steve Buscemi's one liners fall flat. It's a musical. Produced by the Coen brothers and many others. I found it incoherent: lurv in Queens (?), and growing up in a splintering family. Most of it is a pile of fluff that tries to hit the heavy notes at the end, much like Honkytonk Man. Leering camerawork. Again lowly rated at IMDB.

Stephen Holden and Roger Ebert thought as much of it as Stratton did.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Second time around, and just as captivating. Good to see it parked at #188 in the IMDB top-250.

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: Tuesday by Louris van de Geer.

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The Sydney theatre scene is starting to crank up after the summer break. The draw was the high standard so far of Belvoir's 25A series, Jason Blake's comments on the set, which is indeed fantastic, and Bridie McKim, last seen as daffy aristocracy in NIDA's The Country Wife. The playwright is a local favourite it seems: I saw her earlier work Triumph at the UNSW Creative Practice Lab, and they're putting on Hello There, We've Been Waiting For You presently. I bought a ticket at the warehouse in the early afternoon, then hacked away at the Sydney Uni technical library. Maybe 80% capacity without squeezing.

This piece consists of the self-talk of four non-interacting people who for one reason or another find themselves at the same suburban supermarket one Tuesday afternoon. The initial burst of humour ebbs, perhaps necessarily so as to lend shape to what are otherwise brief vignettes, some painfully familiar. The cast is uniformly excellent. Left-to-right, Duncan Fellows plays the supermarket manager with a baby daughter he dotes on, and a wife who seems to be suffering post partum depression/idleness (?). Frances Duca is a traditional mother/housewife who wonders what her husband is doing in his garage with his jars of screws. She loathes competitive gossip. Tom Anson Mesker is a young-ish underemployed sharehouser with a strong and passive-aggressive sense of how things should go. Bridie McKim is a schoolgirl who picks locks and gives herself permission to do whatever. Further characters are sketched from these vantages. This mode, of hearing very private observations about people who have no chance to respond, is effective and a tad sinister.

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Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Almost no one there despite it being a beautiful evening. Seemed clean with the tide going out. I saw what I think were some flying fish (?). Started in on a new book on the Coogee headland while drying off.

The Front Runner

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Unmitigated Oscar bait. The cast is strong (Hugh Jackman in the lead, J.K. Simmons playing J.K. Simmons, Vera Fermiga the wifely deer in the media headlights) but the story and characters are entirely bland and far too weak; Gary Hart's presidential campaigns are lost to history and hardly an inspiration for today. The dialogue is very stagey. Alfred Molina does not convince as Ben Bradlee. The movie tries to stand in opposition to The Post by showing a political press failing to cover itself in glory. It's also entirely tendentious, given that so much of the U.S. electorate really didn't care who was in which candidate's bed in 2016, let alone which of them had any dignity and self-respect at all. Well edited but otherwise a totally predictable bust.

A. O. Scott.

Fintan O'Toole: Heroic Failure: BREXIT and the politics of pain.

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Kindle. I picked this up on the strength of O'Toole's short-form work at the New York Review of Books; in particular his excellent piece on the DUP telling May what was possible. I hoped he'd expand on this topic of non-English views of BREXIT, but instead he serves up a psychoanalysis of the English character. Roughly English self-pity in the aftermath of World War II (they won but it cost the empire, and the bested nations seemed to do better afterwards) has left them looking for an oppressor to rail against. It's the coloniser trying to appropriate the attitudes of the colonised. It's the Sex Pistols in Westminster, and a desire by those who can to return to buccaneering capitalism. Yeah, well, maybe.

Just like David Runciman, O'Toole freed of a word limit and strict editor spills too many words on the obvious; he says it, then digs up a quote and reads it back to us. There's an undercurrent of dripping scorn that likely prevents this book from persuading anyone of anything much. I think he admits that the BREXIT campaign (he read all that dreck so we don't have to) diagnosed the anxieties of the day quite well, though like Trump their prescription is probably not going to solve much. As anyone from a British colony can attest, and the French have always known, the cognitive dissonance required to be English is forever bemusing. The deep mystery is why the working classes of everywhere don't vote in their own economic interests but instead focus on quaint social values or identity politics and end up making common cause with the twitty ruling classes; but you won't find much insight into that here.

O'Toole clearly loathes Boris Johnson. He repeatedly observes how juvenile English culture can be (football, pop music, empty-headed neo-imperial ambitions): it's not insapient, it's just having itself on. There's nothing here on the Irish backstop, or more broadly what it will take to preserve the peace or the possibility of reunification. It's a bust.

Hari Kunzru nods along and proposes a quantity theory of xenophobia: the decline of traditional English racism made room for Euro septicism. A range of views at Goodreads.

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Mid-evening paddle between the flags at Coogee beach. Loads of people, some in the water, many frocked up for a night at the Beach Palace. A bit filthy with leaf matter and some seaweed. Some larger waves. Pleasant in. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the headland afterwards.

Honkytonk Man

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It's a sad state when a man can't buy a woman for his own boy.
— Red Stovall, the honkytonk man.

Still mining David Stratton's list of marvellous movies; this one is #44. Over many sittings as it failed to grip. Clint Eastwood directed and starred. Released in 1982, he's on the road to Nashville from dusty Oklahoma during the depression with his underage nephew (his actual son Kyle) as chauffeur, drinking and wenching partner. The idea is to make something of his musical talent but tuberculosis has other plans. There are some of the usual Eastwood preocuupations, and his put downs are entirely equal-opportunity (as he sees it anyway). Clint plays piano on a visit to a cathouse, as he also does in a black club in Memphis, where he rolls out a joke about adopting blackface to avoid trouble with the Klan (?). The blues singer takes it all in good humour. The camera angles made him look a bit like Henry Fonda at times.

Roger Ebert is indulgent. Janet Maslin isn't.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

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The Ritz Cinema 3, 2:30pm. $10 + $1.50 booking fee = $11.50, booked 2019-02-06. Thanks to the bloke at Bricking Around for the heads up; this advance screening coincides with the US release, with the official Australian release not until March 28. The BOM forecast rain which didn't really happen. Somewhat packed with kids whose parents don't go to the movies much.

Yeah, the movie itself follows on directly from the first one in a five-years-later sorta way. It probably alluded to the in-between one but I don't remember anything. The animation is about the same but the structure is closer to a musical. The framing story is a saccharine cliche about siblings learning to play together under Maya Rudolph's firm motherly suffering. The characters joke that the Marvel characters are absent for contractual reasons. The DC characters set up in suburbia. Less is made of Apocalypseburg than I expected. The queen is a strange character: voiced with a distinctive black accent we're told time and again to expect evil of her. The joke that Unikitty is Hulk-like gets a lame rerun; perhaps her spark wore off on her TV shows, or just maybe the concept itself has gotten tired as the overengineered credits ("the best part of the movie") suggest.

Manohla Dargis says it's one big ad, but to foreigners most American movies are. Lots of locations means lots of sets to sell I guess. Shrug. Jay.

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Lazy paddle in the mid evening with hundreds of people at the northern end of Coogee beach. Perfect summer evening after a warm afternoon. Flat, clean-ish. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the headland afterwards.

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Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. I got in off the southern rocks about 10 minutes before the forecast storm kicked in; lots of lightning and thunder but nothing too close. The people who were there cleared off quick smart. Pleasant, high tide-ish, seemed clean. Soon enough the runoff was torrential. Sat for a bit out of the rain under the sandstone. Got soaked on the slow ride home.

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Mid-evening sort-of-snorkel at Gordons Bay. Visibility was poor on the southern side, improving somewhat as I got into the sun. Loads of people on the northern rocks. A few dogs, all quiet. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the Coogee headland.

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Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Got in off the beach, which was filthy. Somewhat cleaner in the middle. Pleasant in, totally flat, high-ish tide. Very few people, just two well-behaved dogs. Ate my dinner on the Coogee headland afterwards, and started in on Fintan O'Toole's new book.

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Mid-afternoon paddle at the northern end of a flat Coogee beach. Quite a few people about but not packed. The water seems to have cooled off again. Beaut day, not too hot. Some dark clouds rolling in but rain seems unlikely.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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David Stratton's marvellous movies, #11. Ang Lee directs. I remember giving this a miss when it was released in 2016. It's pretty much what it says on the tin: a hero and his platoon go home from Iraq for Thanksgiving and participate in the halftime entertainment of a Texas NFL game in 2004. I guess it's essentially a reversal of the Bunnies going to Việt Nam in Apocalypse Now flimsily spun out to feature length. Apparently Destiny's Child was big then. Joe Alwyn is solid in the lead. (I saw him recently in The Favourite.) The moment he shares with cheerleader Makenzie Leigh at the end speaks more than anything else. Kristen Stewart ably plays his sister. Garrett Hedlund has the most fun as the platoon leader. Steve Martin doesn't convince as a Texan shyster. Similarly Vin Diesel isn't all that Hindu (Stratton says Buddhist, but he spends most of his time talking about Vishnu, Krishna, etc.). I felt the soldiers were allowed to exhibit sufficiently distinct characters for this all-American production. The antiwar flag is half-heartedly waved, and we are shown the boosting and busting of myths and illusions that we've seen many times before. It's all a bit shrug.

Dana Stevens made many small mistakes in her review; for instance Lynn is in the army to avoid being charged with taking it to his sister's fiance who abandons here while she is in hospital. Stevens observes that this got released around the time of Trump's election. A. O. Scott.

Robert Olen Butler: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.

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Kindle. I read this over several years as the stories are all written in the same highly-repetitious, workman-like style. As much as I remember the protagonists are always Vietnamese expats (typically refugees) living in or near New Orleans and trying to interpret their experiences in traditional terms. I got the pointer from a review of his more-recent Perfume River collection. Somehow this one won the Pulitzer in 1993 for fiction. I found it to be shallow, and nowadays it would probably be charged with cultural appropriation.

George Packer observes that in its day these stories may have helped humanize the Vietnamese, remembering that 1995 was the year when the U.S. normalized relations with Việt Nam. A variety of views at Goodreads.

Bad Influence

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David Stratton's #8 on his 101 marvellous movie list. James Spader plays a "successful" working stiff who gets an education from professional bad boy Rob Lowe (and maybe later he'll tell you his real name). Lowe does Spader a favour by getting him out his marriage arrangements through judicious deployment of some homemade porn involving Billy Zane's older sis Lisa. He also steals Spader's wallet as payment for preventing some face mashing. Later on the tables must be turned if only because the ante has been upped and lives are at stake. Lowe is as canonically 1980s as Mickey Rourke but nowhere as physically intimidating, and this movie is a part of the 1990's seemingly never-ending farewell to that decade. The tropes are all there: the actor from a high school movie, the dork, some great cinematography that makes U.S. cities look beyond awesome, the perpetual summer, the TVs with analogue static, the VHS tapes. I drew a bit of a line from it to Alexandra's Project, which somehow isn't on Stratton's list. Boss John de Lancie falls into the uncanny valley by looking like all of Tom Hanks, Bill Murray and Paul Eddington and being, of course, Q. David Duchovny is in some crowd somewhere. Fun for what it is.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby. Both reference Strangers on a Train. I wish Stratton had fewer blind spots; there are quite a few underrated Arnie classics at least as good as this.

The Deep Blue Sea

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I had this one on the pile for ages, largely due to Dana Stevens's review and Rachel Weisz; David Stratton making it #28 on his list of marvellous movies prompted me to dig it up. I remember it getting widely reviewed at the time.

Briefly, Weisz is a (but-I-love-him!) wayward wife soon after WWII. She's a sensualist more interested in the idea of loving than being loved, or even respected. Her far-too-understanding husband Simon Russell Beale is some sort of judge who she tries to throw over for Tom Hiddleston; neither man is really having it. Most of the angst can be sourced to Loki's forgetting of Hypatia's birthday, leading to him BREXITing for a test pilot role in South America after she attempts an exit just as thoughtless and ludicrous. The dialogue is dodgy and wooden. The bickering lacks English reserve. The mood is soporific. The camera has Vaseline smeared on it. The solid cast is mostly squandered: in addition to the lurv triangle, Barbara Jefford has a lot of fun as Weisz’s mother in law while Karl Johnson haughtily does some necessary unlicensed medical work. I guess Fintan O'Toole would draw many parallels to England's current plight.

I have to wonder what Stratton saw in it. So far he's picked movies reliably in the 6-7/10 band at IMDB, which I tend to avoid; my threshold is 7 unless I have some other info.

A. O. Scott was also a fan, and Roger Ebert too, finding a basis for this movie in an excess of pity. Hmm. Ebert reminded me that they sing You Belong to Me in the pub, a song I know from Bob Dylan's rasping cover on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack.

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The day got away from me and by the time I got organised enough to get to Gordons Bay the skies had gone completely grey and the drizzle set in. Loads of idle seagulls both in the water and on the southern rocks. Just one bloke trying to fish. A bit filthy in, and a little rough at high-ish tide. It was too soggy to do much afterwards but come straight home.

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Mid-evening soak at the northern end of Coogee beach. After a stinking hot 40C-ish day a change blew through and rapidly cooled things off, so when I got to the beach a strong blustery southerly was blowing, making things a bit unpleasant. Noticably cooler in. Quite a few people still there but rapidly dwindling as conditions deteriorated.

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Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the beach. Not too many people about, perhaps due to it being overcast with much grey high cloud. The water seemed a little cooler than earlier in the month. Clean, highish tide.

In the Electric Mist

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#49 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Clearly he's a Tommy Lee Jones fan, who dominates almost all scenes as detective Dave Robicheaux. This means that none of the other characters gets sufficiently developed; for instance, Kelly Macdonald is criminally underused, as are Julio Cesar Cedillo, Peter Sarsgaard and a horny Mary Steenburgen. All make the most of nothing roles. John Goodman is not at all convincing as a smalltime underworld king. Several murders, some mystery. Some LSD-fuelled self-talk. The cinematography is occasionally gorgeous, largely by virtue of the natural beauty of the bayous of Louisiana. Somehow it doesn't get there despite the strength of the individual parts; perhaps that was due to the way it was assembled and abbreviated in the version I saw.

Nadeem Aslam: Season of the Rainbirds.

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Kindle. I've had this one sitting on the pile for ages. Aslam's debut recounts a week or so of soap opera in a small Muslim town somewhere in Pakistan, perhaps near Lahore; Arrubakook is mentioned but Google Maps knows it not. The monsoon is incipient. The many characters allow him to cinematically describe many locations: houses, courtyards, mosques, the legal and journalistic workplaces, the hairdresser's and his friend the butcher's. The now-crumbling school is built on a pool that was filled with rubbish. The judge gets murdered — politics, perhaps, or maybe his wife feared another pregnancy. The deputy commissioner has a Christian mistress. One of the local maulanas whose orthodox mosque is possibly in decline gets the most airplay. Some mail delayed by 19 years promises plot action that never comes. The date is implied by missiles being fired at Zia al Huq's plane, and flooding in Bangladesh. Loads of details and motifs: unrefigerated vaccines, utensils as weapons. Hunting birds: eagles, hawks, from the the mountains. The chapters end mysteriously with some italicised first-person child's view. Much is unresolved. There is little humour.

Reviews are legion. His later work is generally deemed superior.

Bulworth

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#19 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Warren Beatty wrote, directed and starred, and that tells you exactly what to expect. The poster is an update on Ralph Steadman. Ennio Morricone did the score. Made in 1998, it's 1996: Clinton is campaigning for a second term against Dole, and Beatty's Californian senator is up too. Three nights without food or sleep lead to some seriously dodgy appropriation of hip hop culture. He falls in with an almost unrecognisably young Halle Berry, who mostly plays it straight. Beatty always gets the girl, right? Even when she's about a third of his age. The senator is a fan of KFC. Don Cheadle doesn't convince as a Compton gangsta. Nora Dunn plays a completely cliched journalist, much like she did in Three Kings. The CSPAN journo looks like Liz Jackson. The plot is sort-of powered by a naff self-assassination insurance scam. It's mostly about how U.S. politics gets funded. Colour no one surprised.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert.

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A mid-evening paddle off the beach at Gordons Bay. A seagull was hunting, like it didn't know about the easier feeds; another was snacking on the two-thirds of a watermelon someone had left at the waterline. Some people still around, but only one or two in. Flat, mid tide. It started raining as I got out, capping off a hot humid day that shaded into a mild windy overcast evening.

Buffalo Soldiers

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#17 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. It's an army satire that fits entirely in the genre. I enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix's performance as a supply specialist more than I usually do. Ed Harris doesn't quite function as an incompetent; conversely Scott Glenn is a natural hard man. Anna Paquin is Anna Paquin, and she does. I recognised Elizabeth McGovern as Deborah from Once Upon A Time in America by her signature look. I guess I got what I expected: a lesson about not cooking up heroin in a basement at a U.S. base in Germany while the Berlin Wall falls. Idris Elba turns up just in time to reinforce that point. Haluk Bilginer gets his end of the deal I guess, and life goes on. Director Gregor Jordan did Two Hands and is apparently just now having a crack at Tim Winton's Dirt Music.

A. O. Scott drew the connections back to Catch 22 and so forth. Roger Ebert did too. I concur with them that this movie is not marvellous but might be worth a watch.

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A vague snorkel attempt off the beach at Gordons Bay in the mid evening. The tide was way out, no swell. I saw approximately nothing due to very poor visibility. A kid was trying to fish off the southern rocks. Loads of people. No dogs until I got out, then just the one.

The Mule

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At The Ritz, Cinema 2, 10am. I renewed membership for $17 and immediately burnt the accompanying freebie. Perhaps ten people total, all far older than me. I was somehow impatient to see this, perhaps because the Oscar bait has been so dire this year.

Clint Eastwood directs and stars. This is something of a counterpoint to Gran Torino: this time around he's incorrigible and his family irrelevant. We're in an Illinois of perpetual summer, and Clint is cultivating day lillies with help from some raffish and affable Latinos. Fifteen years later the internet has destroyed his business. You can infer the rest. Bradley Cooper is assured but banal; I don't understand why he got thanked by Larry Fishburne for busting the mule and not the hoods. I didn't recognise Andy Garcia. Taissa Farmiga is very weak in the role of the granddaughter; Alison Eastwood does better as the daughter. Clint is veiny and scrawny. He gets a tattoo in prison. He runs at the mouth in ways that would embarrass all of his previous characters. He's a good times sorta guy who goes for two women at once. The dykes on bikes take the heavy handedness in good humour. The story is not great: anyone younger than Eastwood might rush to judge the refurbishment of a veterans' drinking hole with drug money as completely authentic boomer behaviour.

Manohla Dargis. Christy Lemire.

David Stratton: 101 Marvellous Movies You May Have Missed.

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Kindle. A brief and pleasant read. The selection seems pretty random: some are not that rare, others are pretty much lost to history. There are no Asian movies. Almost every Australian movie seems to have Ben Mendelsohn in it. He's a fan of Tommy Lee Jones and Jake Gyllenhaal. Only covers the period since 1980. I wish he could appreciate movies that disagreed with his politics, or sense of how politics should be portrayed, like Team America. I'd seen perhaps ten of these, and picked out about twenty to chase up.

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Late evening paddle at Gordons Bay. The tide was out so I got in off the southern rocks. Seemed clean, was flat. A couple of rowboats were doing laps of the bay, so I stuck to the southern side. Beautiful evening. A few dogs. Afterwards read some book and had a sandwich for dinner on the Coogee headland.

Harold and Maude

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I somehow thought this was a British production. Basically Harold stages suicides for the benefit of his mum who is some kind of landed U.S. gentry. Maude is almost 80. They meet cute at a couple of funerals (which serve the role of the support groups in Fight Club), with Maude taking the initiative. Fast times ensue in an America far less homicidal than now. Maude has a numbers tattoo. Maude is easy with other people's property. Maude checks out on her 80th as she telegraphed she would. Harold launches his hearse-ized Jaguar off a cliff. There's a Cat Stevens soundtrack. The humour is of a tediously predictable shape: something dire happens then Harold's mum remarks on something minor. Hal Ashby has his own subgenre. I found it hard to care.

A Star Is Born

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In two sittings. The fourth remake of a thick slice of Americana. Bradley Cooper stars and directs. Lady Gaga eclipses him; this is one for her fans. Sam Elliott, the cowboy from The Big Lebowski. Many others. No need for me to add to the cacophony.

Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens. Both were wowed. Sam Adams wants to talk politics.

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Mid-evening soak at an epically flat Coogee. Seemed clean. Quite a few people still there. Afterwards I tried to read more book on the headland near the Bali memorial.

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Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. High tide. Pleasant in. A few people about: a couple of guys fishing, a couple of families with the young boys on paddle boards. Very storm cloudy but no rain or forecast of. Read some more book on the Coogee headland after.

Tunes of Glory

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An Alec Guinness / Dennis Price segue from Kind Hearts and Coronets. A flimsy King Lear sort of thing: the politics of a Scottish regiment when the battleground-promoted stop-gap Colonel (Guinness in a kilt and dodgy accent) gets replaced by the permanent one (John Mills also in a kilt but presumably his native accent; last seen in Hobson's Daughter; Oscar winner for Ryan's Daughter). Price has a bit of a nothing role as a Judas. Susannah York plays Guinness's cliched daughter, and Kay Walsh his bit on the side. The self pity is a bit much, and the rest is not enough. All in all it merely reinforces the feeling that the British ruling class was never up to the job.

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I headed down to Gordons Bay mid-evening after a trying and hot day. Quite a few people still around. Two stingarees in perhaps half a metre of water put me off getting in from the beach. I figured they deserved some peace (which I don't think they got) and walked around to the southern rocks. It's warm out in the middle of the bay. Flat and seemingly clean. Very pleasant out too, with a mild sea breeze and almost clear sky. Had dinner on the Coogee headland after.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

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Second time around, and just as funny. In two sittings. Alec Guinness is hilarious as the entirety of the D'Ascoyne Family. Dennis Price is solid in the lead and has a lot of fun duking it out with wily life-long frenemy Joan Greenwood, making it with object of upright moral desire Valerie Hobson, and killing Guinness. Highly rated at IMDB but not in the top-250; what gives? I need to dig up more of these Ealing comedies.

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Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the beach. Seemed clean. A boat with four people paddling and a coxswain was doing laps of the bay. Quite a few people. Just the one dog. Dried off a bit in the dying light on Coogee headland.

Quarterly Essay #71, Laura Tingle: Follow the Leader: Democracy and the Rise of the Strongman.

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For some reason Randwick City Library changed eBook provider to Borrow Box, which meant installing yet another app and leaking still more personal data to unknown parties. I read this on the still-dying iPhone. This one dates from August 27, 2018, which was approximately when Turnbull got knifed for the second and presumably final time. I don't think it added up to more than a summary of what Tingle has read since her previous and far superior QE; for instance, what she got out of How Democracies Die (the subversion of institutions) is precisely the same as what Runciman helped make commonly known.

Tingle's points are often flat out wrong, and rarely justified. She seems overly credulous when she identifies the strongman with a political leader, especially when Trump is trying to do more-or-less what he promised albeit with unconventional means. Ultimately his main role might be to distract while the real business happens (or doesn't happen) elsewhere, and it is for these reasons that a government shutdown suits him just fine when it would be poison for earlier Presidents. Just like Bush War 2, I don't know how anyone could ever think that Trump made any progress with the situation in North Korea, let alone a breakthrough. We're told that political success implies popularity, but this is so clearly untrue of Tony Abbott. And Scott Morrison for that matter. And Bill Shorten. And ultimately John Howard. Oh yeah, what about Paul Keating?

I hadn't seen that much slab quoting since Alan Ramsey retired.

I could go on. Instead I propose that the right way to think about the leaders of modern Australian political parties is not along the lines of Ronald Heifetz's doubtlessly hugely valuable work but as pirate captains. The representative class is now essentially parasitic — they can't really make the pie any bigger by their own efforts, especially not without further environmental destruction or suicidally curtailing their cronies' activities — and the effective ones know all about the balance of terror. I'm going to see what Peter Leeson has to say about that.

The book concludes with responses to Dead Right. John Quiggin generously wrote the essay he wished Denniss had written. McTernan ripped Denniss apart at the level of technique. The Australian's economics editor Adam Creighton responded sensibly. I didn't read the rest.

There aren't many reviews out there.

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After drinking too much coffee too late yesterday, I had a mid-afternoon lunch on the grass out the back of Clovelly. Afterwards I read some more of Laura Tingle's most-recent Quarterly Essay, then went for a late afternoon snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Loads of people there, some obliviously blocking the ramp. I saw the usual small fry, a larger groper, something with a mobile spine sticking out of its head (an old wife?) but not the big blue boy or any cephalopods. Lots of stingarees further towards the beach. Afterwards I finished that essay while drying off on the rocks.

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I thought I'd try Fish and Chix for lunch at Eastgardens: it's OK not great. The calamari are not as fresh as their advertising would have you believe. Afterwards I had half a thought to go for a swim at a Little Bay but settled for a coffee. Went for a walk around there and found a couple of parks at the southern end I didn't know existed. Read some more book on the phone at the Coogee headland, and then a brief paddle at Gordons Bay. Lots of cuttlebone on the sand.

Dan Davies: Lying for Money: How Legendary Frauds Reveal The Workings Of Our World.

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'Settlement'. The process of checking the trade’s paperwork, updating the shareholders' registers and sending the payments from the buyer's bank account to the seller's. The sort of thing which people, even very experienced traders and investors, don't tend to think about. People outside the market would presume that this happens instantaneously and auto-magically over big sophisticated computers and tend to be surprised and appalled when they find out the extent to which it doesn't. Actually, things have got a lot better since 2008, but that only means that if you wanted to carry out this sort of fraud [Bayou Capital] today, you'd have to do it in emerging markets or in credit derivatives or some other market with less efficient settlement systems than the New York Stock Exchange. Things tend to improve in settlement systems one megafraud at a time.
— Maybe! But that's not how the ASX sells it.

Kindle. Who doesn't want to know how to get away with financial fraud? This is a book-length expansion of that Guardian article. Amongst many others we're told about the massive Bre-X mining fraud, which reminded me of an otherwise forgettable McConaughey movie. Davies often points to the lack of existence of incentive-compatible mechanisms in many markets; for instance, pharmaceuticals start to look like movies and BitTorrent to me (and I'll have the generics thanks, even so). Particularly valuable are his explanations of why fraud cases are so difficult to prosecute and what to look out for. He gets funnier as he goes along as he builds up a foundation for referential humour.

The whole thing is worth a read, if only to see how pervasive trust is and how little that's going to change whatever the technology.

The Little Drummer Girl

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A recent BBC adaptation of a le Carré classic. Over several sittings and I wish it had been more. The cast is stellar. Florence Pugh was the draw after her mesmerizing efforts in the lead of Lady Macbeth. She leads here too, and there is no justice but no shame in her second billing to frosty Alexander Skarsgård (making a habit of le Carré) and icy Michael Shannon in perhaps his best role yet. Oldboy Park Chan-wook directs. It's a step back towards the mainstream from The Handmaiden (the last thing he did?) with little blood — none lurid anyway, no eating of live animals, some great arty shots and lots of juxtaposition. But yes, still a visual feast.

It's 1979 (I think) and master spy/concentration camp survivor/dry humorist Shannon is assembling a team to takes us deep into classic BBC TV territory: the days of fine John Cleese comedies and circuses righted by Alec Guinness, moral clarity and things worth fighting for. It's a Mossad operation of a sort, something that will progress the cause of peace in Israel, which Flo joins in a bout of credulity that is not really supported by her having the hots for Skarsgård (who coolly ignores the advances of her colleague). How does she know that the explosives in the vintage Merc she drives across Europe will be used for good and not awesome? The scenes at the Parthenon are gorgeous. Late in the game the training camp gets seriously Fight Club: an American reads the rules, and a Dennis Hopper clone goes off the rails. At some points I thought she wouldn't survive; she keeps getting told she doesn’t have to take things further, but she does anyway.

The plot is not holeproof, and is perhaps exactly the one pilloried in Team America. The climax is a bit difficult to square with the motivations of the puppet masters. A very few filming locations are used to evoke so much of the Cold War world.

Stephanie Bunbury. I have no idea why it's so poorly rated at IMDB.

Ben Frost: Widening Gyre at the Carriageworks.

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Part of the Sydney Festival. Booked 2018-11-26, $49.00 + $4.95 = $53.95. I rode over to the Carriageworks quite a bit before the 9pm scheduled start time with the idea of taking a look at Chicago artist Nick Cave's installation. The foyer is like someone blew up a peacock. Instead I finished my book. The ushers insisted I cloak my backpack.

I did buy Frost's The Centre Cannot Hold and the teaser EP back in 2017 but didn't wear it out like I did A U R O R A, so I guess you could say my expectations for this gig were managed. In any case his interview with Nancy Groves in 2015 already gave the vibe that this was the album too far. Well, perhaps what's missing can be made up for in format — eight speaker stacks surrounding his central console (cf the Chicago gig in 2014), statically spotlit — and extreme volume.

It got started promptly, with maybe 400 people generally admitted: some sitting around on the floor, or on one of the very few chairs, or standing around wondering what to do with themselves. Frost turned up in bare feet with his beard and long hair intact; his tattooed producer (?) looked heavily pregnant. Soon enough we were assailed by offcuts of the Chicago sessions and the odd identifiable riff from that new album. I used the earplugs I brought for the first minute or two; after that, well, it felt slightly less abusive than getting passed by a truck on the bike. The walls of roiling bass and unidentifiable noise weren't so much distressing as perplexing; they got my shirt to move, like a summer breeze. There wasn't a lot to hang on to: the identifiable note-like sounds seemed to point back to the early 1980s synthesizer work of Vangelis and co, and not Frost's very intriguing samples (bells, wolves, so forth).

Throughout the crowd hardly moved. There was a lot more talking that I would have expected, and it became very obvious every time Frost gave us some respite from the assault; his music didn't so much shut people up as get them to depart. I was surprised — what did they expect? Less pleasant was some aggressive heckling up close. Welcome to Sydney in 2019: nothing has changed.

It was all over in seventy minutes. Heaps of geeks crowded in after to photo his rig. I think everyone was left wondering if that was it, if there'd be more, or even a main course. I have to say I felt cured. Maybe Patric Fallon was right: maybe Frost is furious about the grim state of the world. But there's no need to take that out on us.

Apparently Frost was in Adelaide in December, and his music was accompanied by some visuals.

Kings Cross Theatre: A Westerner's Guide to the Opium Wars by Tabitha Woo.

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I walked over to Kings Cross in the soggy evening via Centennial Park, encountering a R1150GS at the corner of Oxford St and Moore Park Road. I brought some dinner and ate half of it in the little park opposite St Vincents Hospital, then had a beer, a White Rabbit Dark Ale, at the Darlo on the way past.

Tonight was the opening of the 2019 season for Kings Cross Theatre, and they kindly gave me a freebie to this very personal piece. The space was packed, with enough friends, family and similar indulgents to make the stories flow freely. Tabitha grew up in Tasmania in a family whose roots stretch back to Singapore and Ipoh in Malaysia, and hence to China. We got told about the relations between the Celestials and the English — she was great as royalty, particularly Elizabeth — and other things that might constitute a lesson at school. The second half riffs on China (and to a lesser extent, Asia) as constructed by America: musicals (Rodgers and Hammerstein; The King and I), themed dive bars, Chinatowns, yellow fever. (Missing was kung fu, Japan, a Chinese view of the West, and of course, Việt Nam.) Some singing, a sock puppet, humour, audience involvement that was not at all cringeworthy. I'd have liked to have understood the thread of it all better. She's a brave woman.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Despite yesterday's rains I decided to go for a paddle off the southern rocks of Gordons Bay, which seemed clean enough at the time. Flat, seemingly warmer. Again the rain seemed imminent but held off until well after dark (or never). Very few people there: a couple had their two large dogs in the water and the woman was getting quite excited about them fetching things. Afterwards another dog on the beach. I dried off a bit on the Coogee headland. It seems that every few days there's another shark story; this one about a shark inside the net at Brighton Le Sands got me more concerned than most.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening paddle at Coogee amongst a thin crowd. The forecast storms didn't show up until 10pm or so, though some clouds were blowing through around then after a warmish and humid afternoon. Small waves. The water was deemed to be unclean by BeachWatch. Loads of people at the pubs.

Wildlife

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Paul Dano's first effort as director. Carey Mulligan is a young mum who gets moved to Montana with her son Ed Oxenbould by her never-do-well husband Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake promptly loses his job on the golf course and decides fighting more literal fires is what he needs to do as a man. Car dealing Bill Camp is somehow a temptation to the young ladies. The histrionic scenes are not good. Ultimately no more than a family drama featuring three odd socks. It seems such a shame to venture into David Lynch territory and come away with only this.

Glenn Kenny got right into it somehow.

The Old Man & the Gun

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Spacek and Redford meet cute: her truck has broken down on a motorway, and he's in need of a change of getaway vehicle. Their diner scene is not a patch on the one in Thief. Casey Affleck and fellow mumbler Tom Waits (OK, growler and mutterer), Elisabeth Moss abet and escape without too much reputational damage. This is a pile of hokey ageing philosophizing about one-time boomer dreams: the inability to stop yourself from the pure indulgence of robbing yet another bank, even when you're shacked up with a Spacek who has a vintage Merc, three horses and a massive spread. I got thinking that Redford could probably play Trump in the inevitable Oliver Stone biopic: they have a similar all-American smug smile, whatever their differences in politics and demeanor.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens reminds me that director David Lowery made A Ghost Story.

Sydney Lyric: The Book of Mormon.

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With Pawel and Sylwia who got me a ticket on 2018-12-06 for $140 and a booking fee. I'd missed seeing this in Chicago a few years back. The Sydney Lyric theatre was packed; we were in row D near the centre, which was perfect. I don't think I'd been there before. Apparently it seats 2000 people but it didn't feel that big. We had a light dinner at Gojima beforehand.

All you need to know is at Wikipedia. Briefly, it's a product of the South Park minds (yes, it's scatological with something to offend everyone) and has been running since 2011. It explains while it entertains! — which sometimes made me wonder what their game really was. Many nods to 70s/80s geek culture (Star Wars, Star Trek, Douglas Adams, ...). We all enjoyed it. The cast seemed strong to me, but I don't go to many musicals.

Reviews are legion. John Shand.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

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I thought I'd seen the original but perhaps I haven't. Disney and loads of branding makes for a tedious and unimaginative experience. Nothing there for me. I don't know what I was expecting.

Bilge Ebiri and Sam Adams seem to think that we need movies like this to understand the current internet.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Late (3pm ish) lunch at Coogee followed up with a paddle in the surf with hundreds of others. The beach was hot (35C or more) and somewhat packed when I got there, but by the time I got in the change had rolled through with the storm clouds. Cold in with some waves. The storm only started for real around 6pm.

Green Book

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A weakly-scripted road buddy movie barely held together by Viggo Mortensen who got to see writer/director Peter Farrelly squander Mahershala Ali up close. Somehow highly rated on IMDB. Almost entirely about sticking the moral superiority of the American North to the South circa 1962. Viggo doesn't evolve so very much: his initial casual racism is not so deep or convincing that he can't just roll with what the world sends his way. An empty shell of a thing.

A. O. Scott. Inkoo Kang. Odienator. Richard Brody.

Smiley's People

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The BBC series, second time around. Over a couple of sittings. Also excellent.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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The BBC series, second time around. Over (only) a couple of sittings. Excellent.

A Lego™ Sisyphus kinematic sculpture.

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The equivalent of software engineering in Ancient Greece.

I stumbled upon Jason Allemann's amazing kinetic Sisyphus sculpture a while ago, and finally got around to buying the bits for a motorized one just before Christmas. It's very easy now: the rebrickable page will autofill your Bricklink wishlist, and a button on that site will go and find a small set of suppliers. I did business with Alpine Bricks in Austria and 3 BRICKS in Slovenia; amazingly I received only ony incorrect piece out of over 1200. I'm glad I held off as the redesign of last year reduced the cost significantly.

I spent perhaps ten hours building it over three lengthy sessions. The instructions are very straightforward for building techniques this clever. It felt like most of the time went into the decorative murals. It's large, works as advertised, and the mechanism didn't require any tweaks. I can't imagine pulling it apart.

The Favourite

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Had lunch in the Sydney CBD after trying to dig up the possibly-mythical Lego™ Chinese New Year sets. The goal was to burn my almost-expired Palace Cinemas membership freebie. I intended to go to the Verona for the 3:30pm session but found I could make it to the dear old Chauvel in time for their 2:50pm screening in Cinema 1 with perhaps 10 other people. It still hasn't been renovated.

Well, this is the sisterhood doing it to themselves a few centuries ago, in costume. It's a bit Lady Macbeth without Macbeth: to a man, the men are mostly inert and/or laddish, and their only memorable scenes involve a duck race and a naked porky squire being pelted with fruit by other parliamentarians or courtiers. (I was too sleepy to distinguish.) The main track has Olivia Colman laying it on as a sickly and indulged Queen Anne who is bossed by Rachel Weisz until fallen scrumpet Emma Stone turns up to reclaim her ladyhood, which seems to amount to the freedom to be a bitchy slut. Anne keeps seventeen rabbits: one per child who didn't make it. Weisz teaches Stone to murder some birds with long rifles. The cinematography sometimes employs an odd weird-out lens (such as a fisheye). Loads of four-letter words are thrown about, making it difficult to recommend to the BBC crowd. There is much riffing on the theme of ladywork. The story has some basis in history for those keeping score. Not much there for me on the whole.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening pseudo-snorkel off the northern rocks of Gordons Bay. Flat. The tide was up. Visibility was very poor: I saw just one large wrasse, a pile of small fry in shallow water, and no rays. A few storm clouds rolled over and kept going.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Not many people still around then. Some big storm clouds were rolling through, but apparently the hail and so forth had spent itself in the Blue Mountains. Pleasant in. Lots of detritus near the shore, but seemingly clean further out. The tide was up. Flat. Dried out on the Coogee headland after and ate my dinner.